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Relayware Partner Relationship Management

Recruiting the Right Partners

A Sit-Down with Acumatica’s Dawn Jaeger

Posted on January 23rd, 2014 by Chris Bucholtz

Just as hiring the right people can make or break a business, recruiting the right partners is critical to success with the channel. It builds the foundation for success – but you don’t build it once and then forget it. Recruitment is an ongoing task as you replace partners who failed to perform, moved to other vendors or went out of business. It’s also crucial to growth; if your business is trying to get bigger, recruiting not just more partners but better partners is vitally important.

No one knows that better than Dawn Jaeger. As the director of partner recruiting at Acumatica, a provider of highly customizable, cloud-based ERP applications for small and midsized businesses, she constantly researches, evaluates and prioritizes potential new partners, then works to bring the best into the Acumatica fold. Her past experience at SugarCRM, SAP and Infor has given her a nose for what makes a good partner, and what works when it comes to wooing them.

Dawn and I worked together at SugarCRM, and every week it seemed a new partner was coming aboard – and not just random firms that bolstered the total number of partners, but ones that were valuable in specific ways to SugarCRM’s channel plans. Since she’s been so successful at recruiting in a strategic way, I thought it would be fun to ask Dawn about her own strategies for recruiting the right partners.

Chris Bucholtz: Before you start committing your time, research must be an important part of the process. How long, on average do you spend, and is there a certain bit of data that jumps one potential partner to the front of the line?

Dawn Jaeger: When proactively selecting potential partners to approach, I typically spend about 10-15 minutes researching each company and the decision makers. I spend time on their web site, particularly on the product, services, “about us” and news areas. I also use InsideView and LinkedIn to learn more before approaching the company. A company will jump to the front of the line if they're recognized on the VAR 100, Bob Scott's VAR Stars or other rankings. Also, the size of the company, size of their customer base, technical capabilities and sales and marketing prowess will contribute to their viability as a partner and potentially make them more attractive as a potential partner.

CB: Are there ways in which better and ultimately more successful partners make for better and, maybe, more organized targets for recruiting?

DJ: The better partners are usually more visible, making more noise in the industry, doing more marketing and therefore easier to find and typically better targets. However, a partner can fit an ideal profile, but that doesn't necessarily predict success with a new product. The partner has to have the right motivation to add another product, have excess capacity to learn the new product or willingness to hire and staff for the new product or business unit, and it's best if they have pent-up demand for your product either in their customer base or their pipeline. Sometimes an ideal partner will come aboard and do nothing, and the little guy that doesn't fit the ideal profile will come aboard, start selling quickly and surprise everyone.

CB: What can a vendor do to set up their recruiters with an attractive package of assets for partners? Does having things like training, on-boarding and co-marketing well defined make a big difference?

DJ: This makes a huge difference. You can recruit volumes of partners, and if you don't have a good enablement program, your traction with these new partners will be abysmal. It's critical to continue the excitement and momentum that's created during the recruitment process by quickly engaging with the new partner and capturing their mindshare. You have to introduce the new partner to the team that will support them, get people to start taking the training, update their web site, start marketing and start bringing opportunities to work on together. I think it's important for the publisher to offer pre-sale assistance with the first few deals while the partner is gaining the skills necessary to be self-sufficient, and it's also important to offer an enablement roadmap with milestones and checklists for both the partner and the vendor to work on together and to hold each other accountable during the process.

CB: You've been recruiting partners for a while, and you must have developed an ability to sense winners and losers reasonably early on by now. Are there any classic things that suggest a great fit early on - or perhaps suggest a not-very-good fit?

DJ: The biggest factor that separates the good from the not so good other than size, reputation and customer base is what's motivating the partner to bring on another product. If it's just to diversify, that's not the greatest motivator. If they have a major gripe with their publisher due to decreasing margins or increasingly difficult minimum requirements to attain, that's a better motivator. Equally indicative is if they're representing a product that is old technology and at the end of it's lifecycle or about to be sunset and they're in need of a leading-edge technology.

In my opinion, if the partner expresses a burning desire to add a product and can articulate a clear motivation to do so and they're willing to commit resources, that's a good predictor of success. Many times, it's just a gut feel that says this partner is sincerely interested and motivated and they're often the partners that come to you as an inbound lead as opposed to the partners that you have to fight for mindshare and convince them to come aboard.

CB: Have you seen an example of recruiting that missed the mark you could share - not to name names, but to demonstrate the perils of not being thoughtful about the process?

DJ: Two extremes come to mind. I recruited one of the partners on the VAR 100 who perfectly fit our profile but we never really got their mindshare. After careful analysis, the partner said they wanted to diversify and offer a cloud solution, but in reality, it was easier and more comfortable to continue doing things in the same fashion so they kept selling the traditional on-prem solutions. In another instance, we took a flyer on a very small startup company that never was able to coordinate all aspects of marketing, pre-sales, sales, consulting, training and development, they weren't comfortable collaborating with another partner and we weren't in a position to provide those services so that wasn't a tremendous success either.